HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS, by Lissa Evans

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Breathlessly paced, carefully plotted, and packed with more wit and humor than should possibly fit in a book of its size, HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS is a gem. It has mystery, magic, and – true to the promise the title makes – many miraculous mechanisms.

The book is built around an elaborate puzzle, a scavenger hunt that stretches across both space and time. But unlike many similarly premised novels, HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS has a big beating heart at its center. Whether it’s the guilt and grief surrounding a long-lost sister, the desire to belong, or the need to end the crushing boredom of a summer spent all alone, it’s this emotional element that gives depth to Evans’s characters and helps propel them along.

One other thing I found both exciting and refreshing: the magic that HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS revolves around is (at least initially) stage magic. Now don’t get me wrong – I love me some novels about telekinetic teenagers and awkward, lonely, orphaned boys who are whisked off into worlds populated by wizards and witches. But it’s rare to find a kids’ book that concerns itself with that other sort of magic, the kind performed on a stage, in an auditorium. Rarer still is the way in which Evans is constantly celebrating the ingenuity behind the illusions, that special blend of hard work, creativity, and technical skill that 19th century magicians needed in order to entertain and stimulate their audiences.

As much as it made me want to have an adventure of my own, HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS made me long to get my hands greasy, to tinker with an old piece of machinery. And that is a very exciting thing for another old piece of machinery – a book – to do.

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